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Can Murray claim a tenth Masters title in Miami?

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It is seven days shy of two full years since Andy Murray last lifted an ATP Masters 1000 trophy. Much has happened in that time, including his historic, unforgettable, Wimbledon win on the 7th July 2013, but there is sense that the British number one needs a big win going forward. The familiar courts of Miami’s Crandon Park, the site of his last Masters triumph – and second Miami title – and his training blocks, could be just the place for this to happen.


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After an emotional Davis Cup home tie, Murray travelled to the Californian desert to attempt to change the patterns of the recent past which would see him crash out to much lower ranked players in the early rounds. 2014 had shown some improvement when he reached the fourth round there but he eventually lost to Milos Raonic, playing a third set which Murray himself admitted was a ‘bad, bad, set of tennis’. The last two weeks saw the British number one playing the best he’s played in Indian Wells since reaching the final in 2009.

Acknowledging that he found the ball, the conditions (hot, thin, air and slow courts) and the higher ball bounce, difficult to control, Murray played in a determined, controlled, fashion for four matches. The Scotsman’s variety and on-court intelligence proved more than enough to beat his opponents until he came up against the wall-like Novak Djokovic for the sixth time since both lifting the Wimbledon trophy and having back surgery. Murray suffered from a slow start and a low first serve percentage in the semi-final of the BNP Paribas Open, but for the rest of the tournament Murray was demonstrating improved serving stats and better focus than he had done in Rotterdam and Dubai – where he was without a coach and Murray admits he needs a coach with him on the tour. We might ask ourselves why such an experienced player needs a full time coach at his side (and he is not the only one)? My own take on it is that Murray benefits from the anchoring presence of a coach, someone who guides him and offers structure. Sadly what was a good tournament for Murray until that semi-final has since been overshadowed by a loss that was disappointing and frustrating in equal measure, but as his coach Amelie Mauresmo noted after the Australian Open final, there are still steps for the twenty-seven year-old to climb. This is where it might be worth reflecting on that fact that the greatest British player of the open era is still developing, evolving, progressing: he is not out of options. There will be stumbling blocks and mistakes along the way, but Murray is prepared to work hard and improve and not be deterred when he loses.

Viewed from afar the Miami Open draw could be described as favourable, with the number three seed landing in the bottom half of the draw with Rafa Nadal, and left-hander Donald Young or Yen Hsun-Lu as second round opponents. Though it may be fun, predicting the outcomes of rounds ahead of time seems a slightly pointless given the ways in which draws can open up, but the world number four’s projected path through the tournament is:

R1 - bye
R2 - Young/Lu
R3 - Giraldo/Qualifier/Edmund
R4 - Anderson/Mayer
QF -Wawrinka/Lopez
SF - Nadal/Berdych


To beat the best you have to play the best, but fans of the man from Dunblane will be relieved that Murray has been drawn in Nadal’s half for the first time since the 2014 French Open and not the Serb’s. While Nadal’s head-to-head against Murray is a healthy 15-5, Murray won their most recent hard court ATP tour encounter in convincing style, but we have to go back all the way to the autumn of 2011 for that win: the Tokyo final is a favourite among his supporters. More recently the two have met on clay in Rome and Paris in 2014, and though Nadal won both, it was the exhilarating Rome quarter-final which revealed that Murray could challenge on clay. While slow, the hard courts at Crandon Park would arguably suit Murray more than Nadal, should that match take place. While the Spaniard is showing some better form, his comeback to the tour following injury and illness has not seen him pull off the dominant performances that past returns have displayed. The world number three is defending final points in Miami and has never won the title there; he played erratically in Indian Wells and was eventually defeated by the Canadian power-server Raonic. Nadal is hanging onto the number three ranking, but he has yet to return to the courts as the tennis juggernaut of old. Should they meet in the latter stages of the tournament next week Murray can draw confidence from their New Year match at the MWTC in Abu Dhabi, where he defeated an admittedly rusty Nadal 6-2 6-0.

Big serving South African Kevin Anderson has troubled Murray in the past – issuing an embarrassing loss at the 2011 Rogers Cup - but was beaten in their two meetings in 2014. Swiss number two Stan Wawrinka seems, like Murray, to be struggling with consistency and though he has won their most recent meetings and beaten the former Miami champion there before (all the way back in 2006), he is not currently showing the accurate and powerful deep-hitting which blew the Scot off the court in the 2013 US Open quarter-final. Should they meet we might expect the match to go the distance as many of their previous battles have.

Miami is Murray’s second home and the comfort of his own bed and familiarity with the area and the courts should help him settle quickly at the latest stop on the tour merry-go-round. An eight second video tweeted by the tournament showed him standing in the middle of the court, two or three feet inside the service line, working on his transition game, while photographs from tennis fans attending practice sessions showed him working on his serve. These are key aspects that everyone wants to see improve in the British number one’s game. Whereas in previous eras the forehand could be used as a barometer of how well a player was playing, these days the serve reveals all; the Murray serve can be weapon and weakness in the space of a few points. As with everything consistency is key.

During the Hopman Cup in January the Australian commentator Darren Cahill - who knows Murray well - described some of the serve improvements which had been made during the Scotsman’s winter training block, highlighting the tweaks to the ball toss, the added length on the second serve, as well as the slider serve out wide. Particular focus was given to the latter and that suggests that Murray and his team are looking ahead to the grass season as much as they are working on the current tournaments, because that serve suits the grass courts most of all. If Murray is going to be coming forward and to the net on points on this surface he needs to set it up with the serve by getting his opponent in awkward positions and forcing short returns. This isn’t about power; it is about placement. The foundations for this need to be laid now, not in three months time. Faster surfaces, particularly grass, make the oft criticised and sometimes derided Murray second serve less attackable than it is on slow surfaces – Indian Wells is the slowest hard court in the ATP tour, slower even than some clay courts. Miami comes a close second, but the climate in Miami is hot, humid, and its seaside location can also make it windy; the humidity makes the ball heavier as it picks up moisture and the bounce is lower than in Indian Wells.

So far in 2015 Murray is posting match stats more closely aligned with those achieved in his slam winning years of 2012 and 2013. In those years his average first serve in percentage was 60% and 62% respectively; the first serve points won were 74% and 75%; second serve points won were 54% and 52%; and the break points saved average was 67% and 66%. In 2014 these were down for most of the year but began picking up later in the season, with the exception of second serve points won being down at 51%. This year the stats are as follows: 62% first serve in, 73% first serve won, 53% second serve won.  

The British number one’s return stats have been consistently recorded at 31% of return games won, 54% total return points won, and 446% of break points converted, since a career high in 2011, which saw him winning 36% of return games, 54% total return points won, and 46% of break points converted. The only slight difference being in 2012 when those stats dropped slightly to 41% of break points converted. 2014 saw 1% drop in total return points won and a 1% increase in return games won. 2015 shows signs of continuance in these stats but also some indications of 2011 average levels of return (despite 3 poor returning matches against Simon, Coric and Djokovic) with a solid 44% of break points converted, 54% of total return points won, and 35% percent of return games won.

So what is going wrong? Break points saved. We have to go back nine years to 2006 to see similarly low break points saved stats.

2015 – 57%
2014 – 61%
2013 – 66%
2012 – 67%
2011 – 61%
2010 – 64%
2009 – 65%
2008 – 63%
2007 – 60%
2006 – 57%
2005 – 63%


Clearly Murray needs to be more ‘clutch’ on serve. Before everyone begins panicking, however, it should be noted that those percentages are based on full calendar years, and on play on all surfaces. This year has only seen play on hard courts, the majority of which have been slow. If we compare the 2015 stats they mirror Murray’s break points saved stats on clay in 2014 and 2013. In the early rounds at Key Biscayne it would be confidence building if Murray could go through the early rounds without having his serve broken: the Murray serve was broken by every single opponent in Indian Wells.

Novak Djokovic is the favourite to win every tournament he enters right now and the slow hard courts of the first quarter of the year suit his game absolutely. There is a chance before the end of March for Murray to rise a place in the rankings and his draw could see him go deep in the tournament and hopefully at least double his points haul from 2014. In the last three years the only man who has beaten Murray at Miami is the current world number one. Murray will begin his campaign to lift a third Miami title in the day session on Friday 27th March.

[ Last edit by Mark March 24, 2015, 07:06 pm ] IP Logged
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Thanks for that excellent preview ATL.  A lot of food for thought in there, particularly what you say about Andy's serve.  I've always maintained that placement was more important than power anyway, because that was something I learnt from what little coaching I did have, and agree he shouldn't be waiting until the grass court season before sorting this aspect out, particularly if he wants to go deep into all tournaments and not just Slams.  He did though say in an interview (or it might have been a tweet) that his serving against Djokovic was about the poorest it had been in his entire career, so it isn't surprising that he's been working on it in Miami.  The problem is that he's often been seen practising it in the past, to very good effect, yet, for whatever reason, translating the same onto a match court seems to be more difficult for him.  It's perhaps a bit unfortunate too that if Andy is serving well, and that fairly consistently, then he plays well - the confidence-building side of things, I guess - so when it falls apart he tends to do the same.  He has in the past got round this by 'playing ugly', but that won't help him against the top players.
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...This is where it might be worth reflecting on that fact that the greatest British player of the open era is still developing, evolving, progressing: he is not out of options. There will be stumbling blocks and mistakes along the way, but Murray is prepared to work hard and improve and not be deterred when he loses.

Absolutely. yes

Big serving South African Kevin Anderson has troubled Murray in the past – issuing an embarrassing loss at the 2011 Rogers Cup - but was beaten in their two meetings in 2014.
That was my worst match to watch, ever! BUT.. I truly believe that was Andy's turning point. After this loss, he rebooted and went onto, well.. we all know. Smile

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Great column.  Murray won't win Miami though.
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Thanks for the comments.

Great column.  Murray won't win Miami though.

Thanks. The title is probably misleading - it wasn't really what my premise was but I couldn't think if anything better at the time. I'll get better with the titles; this time I couldn't even find inspiration on the bookshelf...

Absolutely. yes
That was my worst match to watch, ever! BUT.. I truly believe that was Andy's turning point. After this loss, he rebooted and went onto, well.. we all know. Smile

It was one of those matches that was awful to witness, but ultimately jump started him - and as you say look what he went onto achieve.

 
The problem is that he's often been seen practising it in the past, to very good effect, yet, for whatever reason, translating the same onto a match court seems to be more difficult for him.  It's perhaps a bit unfortunate too that if Andy is serving well, and that fairly consistently, then he plays well - the confidence-building side of things, I guess - so when it falls apart he tends to do the same.  He has in the past got round this by 'playing ugly', but that won't help him against the top players.

Agree that it is certainly related to confidence - which is why I think not getting broken in early rounds could help build confidence when he meets the top players.
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That was really interesting, thank you.
A excellent combination of pragmatism, realism and optimism, backed up by the stats. 
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The title isn't misleading to me.    Can he win?    Of course he can.    If you had said "Will he win" the answer could be "He won't"" or " He will" or even "He may" or "Who knows"   So don't apologise for the title.    It's Prod's answer which is inaccurate.
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To answer the question, can he win the tournament?...the answer is no. Andy loses to Joker every time (unless they are playing during a hurricane) on a hard court.

Andy can realistically reach the final though. If he faces Rafa in the semis Id expect Andy's fitness to win through.

Stan in the QFs would be a great match.   
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^ Well, the article wasn't really about that question, it was - as I have acknowledged - just a rubbish title. But perhaps you didn't read the whole column?

Also, it isn't true that Andy loses to Djokovic 'every time' on a hard court unless there is a hurricane. Andy's won six times against Djokokvic on hard courts, and wind only played a part in one of those matches.
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BG Andy has beaten Novak in a final on a hard court with no hurricane and it was in Miami I think.
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Right now Andy's main challenges are against Nadal, Novak and Federer. If he encounters them in any tournament, it's unlikely that he'll get past any one of them - even taking Nadal's own performance into account. That's because Andy's problems are mainly mental against the big 3.

If he truly believes that he can beat these guys again - as he used to - only then results will come. Right now, he's too comfortable and Amelie, as a coach, poses no threat to his opponents. So the much needed serves (both since he struggles a great deal against the big 3 when it comes to his both serves as he doesn't feel as confident against them) and mental approach are still missing from his current resume since Amelie is not known for either; therefore unable to provide any clear direction on these accounts.

Jonas will probably be able to do more as his opponents will probably take him more seriously and it will be a much effective intimidating factor for them. ATP is just a different animal altogether. Amelie's real testament lied at the AO final but she wasn't able to help Andy there. In fact, her coaching is no use against the top 3.

Though I'd say and to be fair that Amelie has a much tougher task at hand than Lendl ever had because dealing with a post-Wimbledon happy and comfortable Andy is a much bigger challenge than facing the one where Andy wanted it more than anyone else on the tour and that made all the difference.

Amelie is unable to create or instill that hungry mindset into Andy yet and I don't feel she ever will. It's just not part of her resume.
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Thanks for the insightful column atl.  Felt it was more insightful than Guest's put down of Amelie.  And if Andy were that comfortable, would he have put so much effort into trying to get back to where he was before his op and now move on from that?  I don't think so personally.
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deb
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The title isn't misleading to me.    Can he win?    Of course he can.    If you had said "Will he win" the answer could be "He won't"" or " He will" or even "He may" or "Who knows"   So don't apologise for the title.    It's Prod's answer which is inaccurate.
I totally agree ILA  yes
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There's no put down of Amelie there. I quite like her. She seems like a very genuine person but her experience was always against the WTA; therefore, she doesn't have any insight into ATP and its players. She doesn't have any idea as to how a guy's mind work. Even Martina Navratilova isn't good enough to coach Andy for the same reason. It's pretty much like comparing apples to oranges. The discussion is invalid and pointless. An ATP player is perfectly capable of training a WTA player because the level he comes from is much higher than WTA. Men's tennis is more competitive, lengthy, taxing and technically superior. Take 2015 AO final for example - could you not tell how Andy ill prepared Andy was. He looked nervous and tentative from get go and had no game for a longer match. He didn't have a plan, period.
In reality, he needed a thorough mental coaching before the  final especially when there was so much tension involved in the semi-final match against Berdych but we didn't witness any of it. It was a golden opportunity lost given how things totally opened up for him and he had more than enough time to rest to prepare for the final. Partly of course is Andy's fault as well since he let a few things affect him.
Andy's not perfect. No one is. He makes mistakes too as not all his decisions are smart decisions. The idea is to learn from it and move on as quickly as possible. Tennis life is short so the sooner one realizes it the better.

And yes, Andy's far more comfortable and happy than he ever was and so he should be. He, after all, achieved his biggest goal - his biggest milestone. But happy people aren't as productive. In other words, they are not as driven. Successful people are typically extremely goal oriented and they almost never lose the sight of it- Djokovic for instance. It has always been Andy's biggest goal to win Wimbledon and now that he's done it, he has lost the drive a bit in the process. Only a tiny bit it's enough to cost him a win against the top players on a big stage. Yes, Andy has made a great effort to come back where he was but you can see he's not quite there yet. The mental stride hasn't happened yet. Amelie can't help him there because she doesn't know how. She probably has too much respect for Andy and the top players especially when she looks back upon her own career and her coaching status. It takes solid and highly determined players like Lendl or Becker or coaches like Annacone, Uncle Toni etc. to get the job done. Guys who can keep calm or get dirty whatever is required in that moment  in order to convert a player into that kind of killer mentality. Federer, still at this stage of his career, can give Novak a run for his  money. Nadal can dominate the tour with a killer forehand only. On the other hand, our Andy is flooded with weapons and yet he falls short on big occasions. So let's face it, guys understand guys better. Andy may have a lot of respect for women and that's admirable, but things should be really left at that.

What Andy has done so far is all Andy - Amelie doesn't have much contributions to it other than just being a coach. Andy is perfectly capable of handling rest of the tour completely on his own - without a coach but when he faces the top guys, he badly needs someone who is perfectly capable of guiding him to the right direction and keeping Andy calm and collected, keep him single minded - because that is what required the most before a big match.

Did Lendl do anything special? Not really but his presence alone was enough to intimidate Andy's opponents and ignite the fire in Andy when he needed the most. Yes, he's been consistent enough this year but if he doesn't win a title or two beating the top guys, then this consistency feels short and feels pointless. And to top of it off, another 0-6 loss in the final - both physically and mentally unfit to go the distance.
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sorry guest but think what you say about men and women is a load of rubbish.  And how do you know what kind of coaching he did or didn't get before AO final?  He played great for two and a half sets but as he himself admitted he had only himself to blame for allowing himself to be fooled and distracted by Nole playing possum once more.   
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